Sunday evening saw the special event that is Voices of Poetry return to the Big Schoolroom in its long-lasting and infallible format: a pupil or teacher reading a short poem after a brief explanation in a darkened room, picked out by a single spotlight. Some of these were in languages other than English: it is amazing how powerful such readings can be, even if you don’t understand the lines. The evening was organised by Mr Swift, and the presenter was Mr Girdham.
Marianne Lee from First Form opened proceedings, with her own evocative poem ‘The Witching Hour’, followed by Mr Jameson from the English Department with a translation of a poem by the Swedish Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer, ‘The Tree and the Sky‘.
The other languages kicked in: poems in Italian (Alexia Fantacci), German (Toni Ladanyi), Cecilia Corti (Arabic), Irish (Dairbhre Murray) and Chinese (Harry Wang). The aural contrasts were fascinating.
Mr Girdham then read out ‘Resistance’, recently written by the British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage in solidarity with all those under fire and bombardment in Ukraine, which led on naturally to Pavlo Shvalov reading a piece in Ukrainian celebrating his country’s independence.
Another step change was to Leonid Mylvaganam, who read out his own flowing work, close to performance poetry. Three European languages came next: Dutch (Josefien Hutchinson), French (Eole Mignot) and Spanish (Mateo Aliaga). Again, it was remarkable to hear the differences even though you can drive from one country to the next.
This year’s Junior Poetry Prize was won by Delia Brady, and her poem ‘The Moon‘ was read by Anna Rose McManus. She was followed by the Warden, who said that from a young age at prep school he had to learn poems off by heart, and he recited G.K. Chesterton’s ‘The Donkey’.
Then, Slavic languages were represented by Polish (Dr Pyz) and Czech (Phoebe Landseer).
The next two poems brought us close to the end, with two people who are soon to leave the College: Ms Heidi Kavanagh (Yeats’s ‘When You are Old and Grey’) and the Senior Prefect, Evie Pringle, with Stevie Smith’s ‘In My Dreams‘.
And finally, Mr Canning announced the winner of this year’s Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry (pictured), Isabella Treacy, and read out a poem from her winning portfolio, ‘Knots‘.
To conclude, Mr Girdham recommended Pádraig Ó Tuama’s podcast Poetry Unbound: a short podcast twice a week on a single poem, with Ó Tuama’s reflections. It does what poetry should do for readers: provide a space for attention away from the busy noise of the world. And that is just what Voices of Poetry does too.